Day #281: Silent Hill 4: The Room

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After the release of Silent Hill 3, work began (or may have already been in production) for the next game.  Depending on who you ask, it either started as something entirely unrelated to the series, or intended to be part of it all along. No one seems to really know. What was clear at that point was that Team Silent, the creative super-team behind Silent Hill, was fractured. Several important members of the staff went elsewhere after part 3, most notably, Hiroyuki Owaku and Masahiro Ito, who served as the writer and monster designer, respectively.

As you would imagine, simply putting these two elements in the hands of anyone else would dramatically change the flavor of the games, and likely not for the better. It’s a recurring theme that went on to define the series in the modern era – Silent Hill becoming nothing more than an intellectual property that would change hands every few years, growing further and further from what it once was. As much as I like The Room, certainly more than most, I still have to admit that it was the point where things started to go downhill.

Silent Hill 4 starts strong, introducing you to the new first person element and the rather creepy apartment that will serve as your hub world. Henry Townsend has been trapped there for five days with no power, one day waking up to find a dozen locks on his front door. No matter how loudly he yells, no one can hear him, even just standing on the other side of said door. Suddenly, a hole opens in his bathroom wall, leading to another world.

What follows certainly feels like a Silent Hill game, capturing the style and general ambiance that the series is known for. There are flashes of downright brilliance at points, comprising some of my favorite moments in the series, but to get to them requires a level of patience most don’t have. More than any other Silent Hill, The Room offers a disconnect by constantly reminding you that it’s a video game. There’s inventory management and respawning enemies. Melee weapons break frequently, so you return to your apartment over and over to regroup. Literally half of the game is one giant escort mission, demanding you to go back through areas you’ve already completed. Ignoring that flat out unforgivable design choice, it’s also a hindrance when attempting to build any sort of tension or horror. If you’ve already explored an area once, you no longer fear anything there.

Still, there’s a lot to like as a Silent Hill fan, considering that the story is quite literally built off of a few minor references in Silent Hill 2. Like the previous games, it’s brimming with odd charm and detail. There are always new things to notice and theorize about. Henry is, by far, the most generic protagonist in all of video games, but his supporting cast is full of people you want to learn more about, especially as they find themselves inserted into this crazy situation along with you. There’s subtlety and ambiguity, two things that, quite frankly, the series never displays beyond this point.

The Room, like Silent Hill 2, is a departure, though admittedly, one that doesn’t work as well. Revisiting it now, I appreciate it more, perhaps because what followed was so bad, but also because I can more clearly see what they were going for. With more time and maybe a bit more of the original team intact, they may have even achieved it. As it stands, it’s a glimpse at what Silent Hill could have been in a post-SH3 world; a good starting point for further evolution. The first three games comprised a beautiful and succinct package that wrapped itself up nicely. It was was time to move forward, not backward.

Sadly, Konami disagreed.

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